Friday, December 16, 2011

Tirupati Balaji Temple | Sri Ventateswara Temple | Tirupati Tirumala Temple | Tirupati Pilgrimage and Tourism

The ancient and sacred temple of Sri Venkateswara  is a Hindu Temple in the hill town of Tirumala, near Tirupati in the Chitoor District of Andhra Pradesh, South India. Also known as the Tirupati Balaji Temple, it has become a focal point of contemporary religion in India, and is dedicated to Sri Venkateswara who is the presiding deity and also known by the name of Lord Balaji, Lord Srinivasa, or Seshadri.  He is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver of the Universe. It is around 150 km (93 miles) from Chennai, 500 km (310 mi) from Hyderabad, and 250 km (160 mi) from Bangalore. The temple is located on the seventh peak, Venkatachala (Venkata Hill) of the Tirupati Hill, and lies on the southern banks of Sri Swami Pushkarini, a holy water tank. The Sanctum sanctorum which houses the awe-inspiring idol of the Lord of the Seven Hills is situated in the main temple complex of Tirumala.

The Tirumala Hill is 853m above sea level and is about 10.33 square miles (27 km2) in area. It comprises seven peaks, representing the seven heads of Adisesha, thus earning the name Seshachalam. The seven peaks are called Seshadri, Neeladri, Garudadri, Anjanadri, Vrushabadri, Narayanadri, and Venkatadri. The temple is on Venkatadri (also known as Venkatachala or Venkata Hill), the seventh peak, and is also known as the "Temple of Seven Hills" (Saptagiri in Sanskrit). The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Venkateswara, a form of the Hindu God Vishnu. Venkateswara is known by other names: Balaji, Govinda, and Srinivasa. The temple complex comprises a traditional temple building, with a number of modern queue and pilgrim lodging sites.

The Tirupati Temple originated in Vaishnavism and Hinduism and observes the philosophy of equality, and love.  Sri Venkateswara attracts crowds of all ages, faiths and nationalities for his belief in his ability to answer prayers and perform the most improbable miracles.

The temple of Sri Venkateswara has unique sanctity in Hindu religion. It is believed that in the Kali Yuga, one can attain mukti, only by worshiping Vendata Nayaka or Sri Venkateswara. The temple has its origins in Vaishnavism, an ancient sect which advocates the principles of equality and love, an prohibits animal sacrifice.

The temple is the richest pilgrimage center, after the Shree Pamanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, of any faith (at more than Rupees 50,000 Crore and the most-visited place of worship in the world. The temple is visited by about 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims daily (30 to 40 million people annually on average), while on special occasions and festivals, like the annual Brahmossayam, the number of pilgrims shoots up to 500,000, making it the most-visited holy place in the world.

There are several legends associated with the manifestation of the Lord in Tirumala. According to one legend, the temple has a murti (deity) of Lord Venkateswara, which it is believed shall remain here for the entire duration of the present Kali Yuga. Tirumala has remained a highly frequented pilgrimage site in Tamilakam throughout most of its history and was a principle temple in the country of Tondai Nadu before the territory was transferred to Andhra Pradesh in the 20th century. Almost all the epigraphs of the temple are in Tamil and interspersed with Grantha characters.

History of the temple

Ancient history

In the Dvapara Yuga, the hill was known by the name of Sheshachala or Sheshadri. The place was known as Venkatachala for centuries; it is believed that this name was given by Lord Brahma. Ancient Tamil Litrature works Silappatikaram and Manumekalaire refer to this place as Thiruvengadam. "Ven" means "sin" and "Kata" means "destroyed or burnt". Therefore the name means that a person who worships there will get cleansed of all sins.

The precise origins of the temple are not known.  However, it is generally believed that the first temple at Tirumala Tirupati was built by King Thondaiman, Tamil ruler of the ancient Thondaimandalam, after he had a dream of Lord Vishnu. He is said to have built the original Gopuram (tower) and the Prakhara in the 8th century. Later on, the Chola Dynasty (300 BC–1279) vastly improved the temple and gave rich endowments.

Medieval history

All the great dynasties of rulers of the southern peninsula have paid homage to Lord Sri Venkateswara in this ancient shrine. The Pallavas of Kancheepuram (9th century AD), the Cholas of Thanjavur (a century later), the Pandyas of Madurai, and the kings and chieftains of Vijayanagar (14th - 15th century AD) were devotees of the Lord and they competed with one another in endowing the temple with rich offerings and contributions.  It was under the regime of the Vijayanagara emperors that the temple gained most of its current wealth and size, with the donation of diamonds and gold. In 1517 Vijayanagara ruler Sri Krishna Deva Raya, on one of his many visits to the temple, donated gold and jewels, enabling the Vimana (inner shrine) roofing to be gilded. Sri Krishnadevaraya had statues of himself and his consorts installed at the portals of the temple, and these statues can be seen to this day. There is also a statue of Venkatapati Raya in the main temple.

After the decline of the Vijayanagar dynasty, nobles and chieftains from all parts of the country continued to pay their homage and offer gifts to the temple. The Maratha general, Raghoji Bhonsle, (died 1755) visited the temple and set up a permanent endowment for the conduct of worship in the temple. He also presented valuable jewels to the Lord, including a large emerald which is still preserved in a box named after the General. Among the later rulers who have endowed large amounts are the rulers of Mysore and Gadwal.

After the fall of the Hindu kingdoms, the Muslim rulers of Karnataka and then the Britishers took over, and many of the temples came under their supervisory and protective control.

Modern history

In 1843 AD, the East India Company divested itself of the direct management of non-Christian places of worship and native religious institutions. The administration of the shrine of Sri Venkateswara and a number of estates were then entrusted to Sri Seva Dossji of the Hatiramji Mutt at Tirumala, and the temple remained under the administration of the Mahants for nearly a century, till 1933 AD.

In 1933, the Madras Legislature passed a special act, which empowered the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) Committee to control and administer a fixed group of temples in the Tirumala-Tirupati area, through a Commissioner appointed by the Government of Madras.

In 1951, the Act of 1933 was replaced by an enactment whereby the administration of TTD was entrusted to a Board of Trustees, and an Executive Officer was appointed by the Government .

TTD is operated by a Board of Trustees that has increased in size from five (1951) to fifteen (1987) through the adoption of Acts. The daily operation and management of TTD is the responsibility of an executive officer who is appointed by the government of Andhra Pradesh. The provisions of the Act of 1951 were retained by Charitable and Religious Endowments Act, 1966.

The temple attracts approximately 75,000 pilgrims every day. The annual budget, estimated at Rs 10 billion in 2008, is funded mostly by donations. TTD runs charitable trusts whose funds are derived from the budget and donations from the devotees.

The Temple and its Structure

The temple has the South Indian Dravidian style of architecture with a main Gopuram which has a glided golden cupola (Vimana) called as Ananada Nilayam over the main shrine. The shrine has three enclosures called “Prakharams”. While the outermost enclosure comprises the Dhavajasthamba – a banner post, the other enclosures have many statues including that of the King Krishnadevaraya of Vijaynagar and his spouses and of Todamal, the minister of King Akbar.

The main door or outer Gopuram is called “Padi Kavali Maha Dwara” which stands on a rectangular base. The architecture of the alter is of the Chola period and inscriptions on the Gopuram date back to the 13th century. This Gopuram has a number of stucco figures of Vaishnava Gods like Hanuman, Kevala Narasimha and Lakshmi Narasimha.

“Nandimi Padi Kavali” is the inner Gopuram, the inner entrance to the temple which is reached via Dhwajasthamba Mandapa. It has wooden doors covered in silver plates and is called as “Vendi Vakili”

The path for circumnavigating the temple is called “Pradakshinam”. The main temple has three Prakarmas and between the outer and middle Parakarma is the second pathway for circumambulation which is called as “Samoangi Pradakshanam”. This pathway is closed to pilgrims and contains several of the Mandapams (halls) like the Ranga Mandapa, Pratima Mandapa, Tirumal Raya Mandapa, Aina Mahal, Dhwajasthamba Mandapa.

The temple complex inside consist of several elegantly carved doorways, mandapams and shrines. The beautiful idol of Shri Venkateswara is placed in the main sanctum of the temple. Inside the main sanctum are also three consecutive halls - Snapana mandapam, also called Tiruvilan Kovil or square hall, Rama Meda or the rectangular hall and Sayana Mandapam or Ardha Mandapam which is also rectangular in shape.

The temple has a kitchen area also called “Potu” where the food offering for the main temple is prepared.


The roof with shining golden exterior of the inner temple that houses the presiding deity is named "Vimanam" in a Hindu temple. In the Tirumala temple, it holds a very special place as the Ananda Nilayam (meaning Abode of Happiness or Bliss literally) with its imposing view, magnificence, and readily recognizable identity to any devotee familiar with the temple and its fame.  Its inner temple or Vimanam houses the main deity, Lord Sri Venkateswara. The deity stands directly beneath a gilt dome called the Ananda Nilaya Divya Vimana. This exquisitely wrought deity, called the Mulaberam, is believed to be self-manifested, and no human being is known to have installed it in the shrine. The Lord wears a gold crown with a large emerald embedded in the front. On special occasions, he is adorned with a diamond crown. The Lord has a thick double Tilaka drawn on his forehead, which screens his eyes. His ears are decorated with golden earrings. His right hand is raised in a fist, which is decorated with a gem-set chakra; the left fist contains a Shankha (conch shell). The front right hand has its fingers pointing to his feet. His front left hand is akimbo. His body is dressed with yellow clothing tied with gold string and a gold belt with gold bells. He has a Vainopavita (sacred thread) flowing down crosswise from his left shoulder. He bears Sri Lakkshmi Devi on his right chest and Sri Padmavathi Devi on his left chest. His feet are covered with gold frames and decked with gold anklets. A curved gold belt encompasses his legs. The Ananda Nilaya Divya Vimana was covered with gilt copper plates and surmounted with a golden vase in the 13th century, during the reign of the Vijayanagara king Yadava Raya.


Adjacent to the Sangeeta Bhandara in the northern corridor of the Vimana Pradakshinam is the shrine of Sri Ramanuja, the great Vaishnava Acharya. It is also called the Bhashyakara Sannidhi. Ramanuja was the architect of Tirupati and the father of the Sri Vaishnava community there. He designed the flower gardens of the temple. He was responsible for managing the worship procedures and other affairs of the Sri Venkateswara temple. His shrine was built around the 13th century. It overlooks the western end of the Tirumamani Mandapam. There are two tall copper images of the Dvarapalas (door guardians) Jaya and Vijya on either side of the door. The door is covered with gilt plates depicting the Dashavatara of Sri Maha Vishnu. The doorway is directly in line with the Padi Kavali and the Vendi Vakili. It admits pilgrims to the Snapana Mandapam. Suprabhatam is sung in front of this door. The Pandyan emblem of two fish and a hook is carved on the wall next to the entrance. The right hand of the stone image of Ramanuja is held in the gesture of exposition (vyakhyana mudra), and the left hand in the form of boon bestowal (varada hasta) or of holding a book (pustaka hasta). The shrine figures prominently during the festival of Adhyayanotsavam, which is a typical Pancharatra observance. Special worship is conducted in this shrine during Gandhapodi Utsavam and Bhashyakara Utsavam. The presiding deity of Ramanuja is taken in a grand procession to meet Malayappa near the Padi Kavali.

Things to See in the Temple

Ranga Mandapam

The Ranga Mandapam, also known as Ranganayakula Mandapam it is located in the south east corner of Sampangi Pradakshinam. The shrine in this hall is believed to be the place where the Utsava Murti of Lord Ranganadha of Srirangam was kept in the 14th century, when Srirangam was occupied by Muslim rulers. The mandapa was constructed between 1320 – 1360 by Yadava ruler Shri Ranganadha Yadava Raya in the Vijayanagar style of architecture.

Pratima Mandapam

The Pratima Manadam (a Hall) gets its name from Pratimas, or bronze images of the King Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagar empire and his two consorts - Tirumaladevi and Chinnadevi who are all facing the shrine with their hands joined in supplication. The hall is also called as Krishna Deva Raya Mandapa. The southern wing of this mandapam has the statue of Venkatapathi Raya of Aravidu dynasty who ruled Chandragiri in 1570. The mandapa was built in the later period of Vijayanagar rule and is filled with images of the Vijayanagar period. At the top of the two main pillars of the mandapam there are Vaishnava symbols also called “Urdhvapundras” flanked by a carving of conch and disc.

Tirumal Raya Mandapam

Adjoining the Ranga Mandapam on the western side of this hall, the Tirumal Raya Mandapam is also called Anna Unjal Mandapa. It is a large complex of pavillions with 2 levels - front at a lower level and the rear at a higher level. The mandapam also has a complex of pillars in the Vijayanagar style of architecture with the central pillar surrounded by smaller pillars some of which produce musical notes. The main pillars have rearing horses with mounted warriors. The best sculptures found here are of bold relief.

The inner portion of the mandapa was constructed in 1473 by Saluva Narasimha to celebrate the festival of Sri Venkateswara and is called as “Anna Unjal Tirunal”. Aravati Bukkaray Ramraja, Sriranga Raja and Tirumala Raja have extended the structure to its present form. It is in this mandapam that the Utsava Murthi holds his annual darbar or Asthanam during Garudadhwaja, that is to hoist the Garuda flag on Dhwajasthamba to mark commencement of Brahmotsava. In the corner of the hall are situated bronze statues of Todermal, his mother and wife.

Aina Mahal

Aina Mahal, situated on the northern side of Trirumala Raya Mandapam, consists of 2 parts - an open mandapam in the front having six rows comprising of six pillars each, and a shrine behind which consist of an Antarala and Garbhagriha. The shrine has large mirrors which reflect images in an infinite series. An Unjal is situated in the middle of the room on which the Lord is seated during festivals.

Dhwajasthamba Mandapam

The Dhwajasthamba Mandapam houses the "Dhwajasthamba" which is a wooden flag pole encased in gold and Bali Peetha which is a seat for food offering. The position of both is according to Vaikhanasa Agamic traditions. An unusual feature of this mandapa is that it is covered to facilitate the conduct of rituals in all type of weather conditions.

Deities in the temple

Moolavirat or Dhruva Beram — The main stone deity of Lord Venkateshwara is called Dhruva Beram (beram means "deity", anddhruva means "pole star" or "fixed"). The deity is about 8 feet (2.4 m) from the toes to the top of the crown and is considered the main source of energy for the temple.

Kautuka Beram or Bhoga Srinivasa — This is a tiny one-foot (0.3 m) silver deity, which was given to the temple in 614 AD by Pallava Queen Samavai Perindevi, and has never been removed from the temple from the day it was installed. This deity is popularly known as Bhoga Srinivasa, because it enjoys all the Bhoga (worldly pleasures) which the Moolavirat has. This deity sleeps in a golden cot every night and receives Sahasra Kalashabishekam every Wednesday. This deity is always placed near the left foot of Moolavirat and is always connected to the main deity by a holy Sambandha Kroocha. The deity is always faced at an angle of 45 degrees towards the devotees, because it holds a Prayoga ("ready to strike") Chakra.

Snapana Beram or Ugara Srinivasa — This idol of the Lord represents the anger part of Lord Venkateshwara. He remains inside the sanctum sanctorum, and comes out on only one day each year: on Kaishika Dwadasi, before the sunrise. Snapana means "cleansing". The idol is cleansed daily with holy waters, milk, curds, ghee, sandalwood paste, turmeric, and so on.

Utsava Beram — This is the form of the Lord which comes out of the temple to see the devotees. This deity is also called Malavappa, and its consorts are Sridevi and Bhudevi. These three deities were found in a cave called Malayappan Konai in the holy Tirumala Hills. Originally Ugra Srinivasa was the Utsava Beram (the procession deity), and frequently disastrous fires were happening whenever the deity was taken out for processions. People prayed to the Lord for a solution. The Lord appeared in dreams, and ordered the people to find a suitable set of idols hidden in the Holy Tirumala hills for the Utsavar (procession). The hunt began, and the villagers called the idol they found Malayappa, which means "king of the hills". After these idols were brought to the temple, the number of programmes increased to include Nitya Kalyanaotsavam, Sahasra Deepalankara Seva, Arjita Brahmotsavam, Nityaotsvam, Dolotsavam, and others. Jewels worth millions of rupees have been donated as offerings to these idols.

Bali Beram or Koluvu Srinivasa — This silver idol resembles the main deity, and represents the presiding officer for all activities and rituals in the temple. The idol is also called Bali Beram. Koluvu Srinivasa is regarded as the guardian deity of the temple that presides over its financial and economic affairs. Daily offerings are made to the deity, with a presentation of accounts. There are also rituals performed in July each year, at the end of the fiscal year.


The names ascribed to the main deity are Balaji, Srinivasa, Venkateswara, and Venkatachalapathy. The goddess Sri or Lakshmi (Vishnu's consort) resides on the chest of Venkateswara; thus, he is also known by the epithet "Srinivasa" (the one in whom Sri resides). The goddesses Lakshmi and Padmavathi reside on either side of his chest. The deity is considered the Kali Yuga varada, that is, 'the boon-granting Lord of Kali yuga'. (Kali yuga is the fourth and final age of the Hindu cycle of ages). The temple is held in particular reverence by the Vaishnava sect of southern India, known as the Sri Vaishnava.

For worshippers, the deity Venkateswara symbolizes goodness. When people travel to Tirupati, they chant the mantra “Yedu Kondala Vada Venkataramana Govinda Govinda” (in Telugu) or “Om namo narayanaaya” or “Om Sri Venkatesaya Namah” (in Sanskrit). Lord Venkateswara is believed by followers to be a very merciful form of Vishnu, being the fulfiller of every wish made to him by the devotees.

The Venkateswara Suprabhatam, the morning recital of prayers and songs of awakening, was written by Prathivadhi Bhayankaram Annangaracharya of Kanchipuram and sung by M. S. Subbulakshmi. Several composers composed beautiful kirtanas about Lord Venkateswara, the most notable amongst them being Tyagaraja and Annamacharya, who composed mostly in Telugu. Annamacharya (1408–1503) was a legendary devotee of Lord Venkateswara and composed songs almost exclusively about the deity.

The Temple's hours of operation varies by the day.On most days, On normal days the temple is open for “Sarvadarsanam” which means “darshan for all” for about 18 hours and during peak festival days it is open for about 20 hours. A day at Tirupati Tirumala temple begins with 'Suprabhatam' ("Awakening the Lord") as early as 3:00 AM and ends with the 'Ekanta Seva' ("Putting the Lord to Sleep") around 1:00 AM the following morning.

Lord Vishnu is worshiped in the Temple as per Vaikhanasa traditions. The ancient texts of the sage Marichi (the Bhagvad Shastram and Vimanarchana Kalpam) state that Lord Vishnu here should be worshipped six times a day.

UshaKala Aradhana — worship (or Aradhana) should start and finish before sunrise

Prathakala Aradhana — worship should start after sunrise and finish before noon

Madhyanika Aradhana — worship should start and finish at noon

Aparahana Aradhana — worship should start when the sun starts to descend

SandhyaKala Aradhana — worship should start and finish around the sunset

Ardharatri Aradhana — worship should start after the horizon is completely dark

All the Aradhana is done by hereditary Vaikhanasa priests, who have performed the services for generations. Only these priests have the right to touch and offer services to the Lord. These set of Ardchakas are called Mirasidars (owners and shareholders of the temple). The four families of the Tirumala Temple which are in this Mirasi are the Gollapalli, Peddintti, Paidipalli, and Tirupathammagari family.

To assist the Archakas in temple work and rituals, Ramanuja established a Jeeyar Mattam, wherein this Mattam would take care of the temple work.

Temple activities


Laddu is the world famous Prasadam given at Tirumala Temple. Recently the Trust has taken copy right of Laddu prasaddam, hence, no one can prepare the same Laddu. Many other prasadams are also available including daddojanam (curd rice), pulihora (tamarind rice), vada and chakkera-pongali (sweet pongal), miryala-pongali, Appam, Paayasam, Jilebi, Muruku, Dosa, seera (kesari). Free meals are given daily to the pilgrims. On Thursdays, the Tirupavadai seva occurs, where food items are kept for naivedyam to Lord Srinivasa.

Hair tonsuring

Many devotees have their head tonsured as an offer. The daily amount of hair collected is over a ton. The hair thus gathered is sold by the Temple Organization a few times a year by public auction to international buyers for use as hair extensions and in cosmetics, bringing over $6 million to the temple's treasury.

When Lord Balaji was hit on his head by a shepherd, a small portion of his scalp became bald. This is noticed by Neela Devi, a Gandharva princess. She feels "such an attractive face should not have a flaw". Immediately she cuts a portion of her hair and with her magical power she implants it on his scalp. Lord Balaji notices her sacrifice. As hair is a beautiful aspect of the female, he promises her that all his devotees who come to his abode should render their hair to him, and she would be the recipient of all the hair received. Hence it is believed that hair offered by the devotees is accepted by Neela Devi. The hill Neeladri, one among seven hills is named after her.

Hundi (donation pot)

It is believed that Srinivasa had to make arrangements for his wedding. Lord Kubera credited money to the god Venkateshwara (a form of the god Vishnu) for his marriage with Padmavati. Srinivasa sought a loan of one crore and 14 lakh (11,400,000) coins of gold from Kubera and had Viswakarma, the divine architect, create heavenly surroundings in the Seshadri hills. Together, Srinivasa and Padmavathy lived for all eternity while Goddess Lakshmi, understanding the commitments of Lord Vishnu, chose to live in his heart forever. In remembrance of this, devotees go to Tirupati to donate money in Venkateshwara's hundi (donation pot) so that he can pay it back to Kubera. The hundi collections go as high as 22.5 million INR a day. Devotees offer gold as a token of their love for God. The annual gold offering goes as high as 3000 kg.


One of the most important offering in this temple, is the ‘thulabharam.’ In the Thulabaram ritual, a devotee sits on a pan of a weighing balance and the other pan is filled with materials greater than the weight of the devotee. Devotees usually offer sugar, jaggery, tulsi leaves, banana, gold, coins. This is mostly performed with newborn babies or children.

Arjitha seva (paid services)

Pilgrims can view and participate (in a limited fashion) in the various sevas performed to Dhruva (main idol), Bhoga Srinivasa, Sri Malayappa Swami and other idols in the temple.

When pilgrims purchase arjitha seva tickets, they get the opportunity to see a seva performed to the Lord, obtain prasadam in the form of vastram (clothes), akshantalu (sacred and blessed rice) and food articles (laddus, vadas, dosas, pongal, rice items) and a darshan of the utsava murti.

The Seven Hills

The seven hills, also called Saptagiri, represent the Saptarishi (seven sages). They sometimes called the Sapathagiri. Hence the Lord is named Saptagirinivasa. The following are the seven hills:

Vrushabadri - Hill of Nandi, the vahana of Lord Shiva)

Anjanadri  - Hill of Lord Hanuman

Neeladri — Hill of Neela Devi - It is believed that hair offered by the devotees is accepted by Neela Devi. It is because of boon granted by Lord Venkateswara to Neela Devi.

Garudadri or Garudachalam - Hill of Garuda, the vahana of Lord Vishnu

Seshadri  or Seshachalam - Hill of Sesha, the dasa of Lord Vishnu

Naraynadri - Hill of Narada Muni

Venkatadri - Hill of Lord Venkateswara


Elephants marching during a festival at Tirumala

The town celebrates most Vaishnava festivals, including Vvaikunta Ekadasi, Rama Ekadasi, Rama Navami, and Janmashtami with great splendor, while the Brahmotsavam celebrated every year during September is the most important festival in Tirumala. The temple receives millions of devotees over the short span of a week. Other major festivals include Vasanthotsavam (spring festival), conducted in March–April, and Rathasapthami (Magha Shuddha Saptami), celebrated in February, when Lord Venkateswara's deity is taken on procession around the temple chariots.